Montana man convicted of hate, firearm crimes in LGBTQ attack
(Missoula Current) A federal jury convicted a Montana man of both hate and firearm crimes after he shot an assault rifle at the residence of a LGBTQ woman who was home at the time.
After a four-day trial in Helena, the jury found John Russell Howald, 46, of Basin, guilty of hate crimes and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.
“This defendant is being held accountable for attempting to violently eliminate the entire LGBTQ community in a small Montana town,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This hate crime and violent campaign targeting the LGBTQ community is a reminder of the epidemic of hate violence targeting people based on their sexual orientation.”
Court records state that in March 2020, Howald went on a self-described mission to rid Basin – a small town south of Helena – of its lesbian and gay community. Armed with three rifles and two pistols – and knowing the victim identified as a lesbian – Howald approached her residence on foot and fired an assault rifle at her property.
The victim was at home at the time but was not struck.
After firing at the victim’s house, Howald walked down the street toward other houses occupied by people who identify or are known locally as gay or lesbian. A church service had just finished and individuals saw Howald walking on the street, recognized him and approached.
The individuals heard Howald talk about his mission of killing lesbian and gay people in town and saw his weapons. They approached and tried to talk Howald down. One of these people, a pastor, unknowingly had left on a recording device that he used for his sermons.
The device recorded about 10 minutes of his interaction with Howald until Howald demanded that the pastor walk away. The recording captured Howald making statements that he might have killed a lesbian and that he hoped he had, and that he was going to get rid of lesbians and queers in Basin.
Upon arrival, a Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy ordered Howald to put down his guns. Howald refused, pointed a rifle at the deputy and fled on foot, firing at least one more shot as he went. Sheriff’s officers arrested Howald the next day.
Howald faces a maximum of life imprisonment, a $250,000 fine.
“All people have the right to feel safe in their homes and communities, regardless of who they love,” said Clarke. “The Civil Rights Division will continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to safeguard the civil rights of LGBTQ people affected by hate violence, hold perpetrators accountable, and ensure justice for victims of bias-motivated crimes.”